Tag Archives: D.C. Smith

‘Time and Tide,’ by Peter Grainger

Time and Tide

As you’ve probably noticed, I have a fondness for British police procedural mysteries. Of all the series I’ve sampled, I think I like Peter Grainger’s DC Smith mysteries best.

It’s probably mainly the central character I enjoy. Detective Sergeant D.C. Smith is a curmudgeon, an older cop who conceals an essentially kindly nature behind a crusty exterior. He uses his dry sense of humor as a tool to keep his opponents – both professional and criminal – off balance. He’s nearing retirement as Time and Tide begins. Police work is changing. He’s never warmed to the use of the computer (though he’s happy to have his underlings take advantage of them), and recent force reorganizations have played hob with his carefully trained and organized team. Although he’s only a sergeant (he rejected promotion; it would confine him behind a desk), he’s effectively the leader of that team.

In Time and Tide, a body is discovered floating in the sea off the Norfolk coast by a party of seal-watching tourists. The deceased was a large, tough-looking specimen dressed in an expensive suit, without any form of ID. In time he’s identified as a London businessman, once a gangster but now “legitimate.”

DC Smith is (or feels himself to be) as much hampered by the police bureaucracy as by the villains. He has a new detective inspector over his head, and he happens to be a man who once questioned Smith in connection with a murder. On the civilian side, he faces the challenge of a small community looking after its own – confident it can take care of its own problems, and resentful of official interference. And in the background, there’s a mysterious elderly woman of great natural beauty, a one-time pop star who has been living in obscurity on the coast for decades.

There’s a valedictory quality to Time and Tide. Smith has given his resignation and named the date of his retirement, and everything happens in the shade of that deadline. But there’s a couple months left, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if author Grainger doesn’t find a way to squeeze one or two more mysteries into that window of time.

Some people may find this book slow, because it’s pretty realistic about the amount of time and effort paperwork and legwork take up in any investigation. But I enjoyed it immensely. Only mild cautions for language and mature themes.

‘Afon,’ by Robert Partridge

Afon

He had forgotten, too, the pain of this [writing] – the pain of dragging this thing out of oneself, the birth of a reluctant child that would much rather go on growing inside than be forced out screaming into the light of day and the fear of examination. He had forgotten the monstrous ego that was needed to push the creation out into the world, with all its mess and suffering. He had forgotten.

I’ve been praising Peter Grainger’s DC Smith novels in this space. On noodling around for further information about the author (who seems to wish to be a man of mystery), I discovered that “Peter Grainger” is a pen name. More than that, the author had earlier written (under the name Robert Partridge) some literary novels, one of which – Afon – starred a character named Peter Grainger, who was a novelist.

Messing with our heads, in other words.

So I bought Afon. It’s pretty good. Not my cuppa tea, but a well-written novel.

Peter Grainger is in his 40s. Long ago he wrote a first novel that got a lot of recognition, and then he lost his nerve and wrote no more. Now he’s quit a teaching job, which he hated. He has some money left from a divorce settlement, so he decides to take a lease on a cottage on an estate called Afon, in a remote valley in Wales. He will try and write another novel. If he fails, at least he’ll know he made the attempt.

He meets the elderly landowner and his much younger wife. He learns to fly fish. He makes an enemy of the estate’s brutal gamekeeper, agonizes over his feelings for two different women (both married), and after a struggle produces a new book.

Afon abounds in lovely descriptions of the natural beauty of Wales, and in perceptive dramatizations of the writing process. The ending is kind of ambiguous, the sort of thing you expect in a literary novel – which is one of the reasons I generally avoid literary novels.

But it’s pretty good. Not much obscenity here, though the bonds of marriage take a beating. Recommended, if you like this sort of thing.

‘The Rags of Time,’ by Peter Grainger

The Rags of Time

Desk Sergeant Charlie Hills was by nature a two-fingered typist, but sometimes, when the muse was upon him and there were words to be produced that contained a lot of a’s, e’s, and s’s, the middle finger of his left hand would join the party. He typed ‘assessment’ with some panache, therefore, but then had to stop and count the s’s, undoing any gains he had made in the time taken.

I like Peter Grainger’s D.C. Smith mysteries more with each outing, and The Rags of Time did not disappoint. I have compared Essex Detective Sergeant D.C. Smith to the American character of Columbo before, but I found myself thinking of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch this time around. Though different in their environments and methods, the two detectives have much in common. Both are aging masters, and both tend to make enemies among their colleagues because they work a little harder than everybody else. Where other cops are content to connect a few dots and make a frame, these two see more dots and sometimes come out with very different results. They never forget that it’s not enough just to make a case – they need to find the truth, to do justice as much as possible.

This time out, Sergeant Smith is contemplating retirement. He’s just returned to work from medical leave, and the department is going through changes. One of his fellow detectives, Wilson, a man who’s been a personal rival and enemy, is on the point of promotion. Smith, who has no noticeable personal vanity, actually manipulates various things to make Wilson look good, and attempts to heal their differences.

All that, however, falls to pieces when a dead body is found in a rural field. The victim, a metal “detectorist,” was killed with a blunt object of some kind. Suspicion falls on his fellow detectorists, but Smith is unsatisfied with Wilson’s rush to judgment. He has to step in to correct the man’s mistakes – multiple times. The true trail seems to him to lead to the residents of a nearby friary where, in spite of holy vows, somebody is telling lies.

D.C. Smith is a fascinating character, a mystery to his co-workers, and even a bit of a mystery to the reader. I like him immensely. I liked this book immensely. I liked the prose immensely. The language is restrained (including little profanity), but often witty, and there’s really nothing to object to. Even issues of faith are treated with respect. I highly recommend The Rags of Time and the whole series.

‘Persons of Interest,’ and ‘In This Bright Future,’ by Peter Grainger

A while ago I reviewed the first three D.C. Smith novels by Peter Grainger. I was happy to discover recently that there are now two more. I read them with pleasure and review them here.

The continuing hero, D.C. Smith, is an aging police detective in the fictional city of King’s Lake in England. He is utterly uninterested in career advancement, and has no personal life to speak of. For him it’s all about the work – our friend Gene Edward Veith might say he’s a man of his vocation, perhaps to excess.

One of D.C. Smith’s great strengths is the low profile he keeps. He’s physically unimpressive, and he purposely presents himself as less intelligent than he really is. His very nickname, “D.C.,” is a police rank (Detective Constable), but his actual title is Detective Sergeant. Thus from the very beginning he keeps the people he meets at a disadvantage, something he enjoys and exploits.

In Persons of Interest, a low-level convicted felon is murdered in prison, and Smith’s phone number is found among his effects. This is puzzling, as Smith has never met the man. Then a couple teenagers disappear, and it all comes together in an investigation that takes on ruthless and powerful gangsters.

In In This Bright Future Smith takes an excursion into his own past, or at least the ruins of that past. In his youth he served as a British spy in Belfast, North Ireland. There he failed to complete his mission and nearly got killed. Only now, while resting up from a leg injury, Smith receives a summons from the son of an old friend there, learning that a young man he’d liked, one who’d been promising and non-political, had disappeared the same night he fled the city. Smith goes back, impelled by a sense of obligation, once again adopts a false identity, and begins investigating what happened to the young man.

I like each D.C. Smith book better than the last. I’m particularly impressed to learn that author Grainger began in self-publishing – few writers in that field (and I include myself among them) rise to this high level of craftsmanship. Also the language is mild and though there’s much violence in the air, little actual violence happens on stage, largely because Smith is too smart to let it happen.

Highly recommended.

The D. C. Smith novels, by Peter Grainger

It’s been a week or two since I finished reading the D. C. Smith mystery novels, and I’d better review them before I forget them completely. Not that they’re forgettable — they were quite impressive.

D. C. Smith is an interesting continuing detective character, and has been compared to another English police detective, Inspector Morse, by reviewers. But after reading An Accidental Death, But For the Grace, and Luck and Judgement, I would say that a closer parallel would be the American TV cop, Columbo. Smith is the kind of man who tends to be underestimated by suspects, witnesses, and even other cops. He’s small, shabby, and unprepossessing. He knows this and uses it to his advantage. In fact he’s generally the smartest person in the room, and has commando fighting skills. He also plays a mean rock guitar, though not often since the loss of his beloved wife to cancer.

His name is kind of a joke. “D.C.” in English police slang means “Detective Constable.” This is what everyone calls him, but he’s actually a Detective Sergeant. He used to be a Detective Inspector, but voluntarily took a demotion to be closer to street-level puzzle solving.

As is my wont, I was more interested in the character than in the mysteries as such. I found the D. C. Smith books very enjoyable. No great moral lessons here — Smith the character is an open skeptic about religion, and But For the Grace deals with the question of assisted suicide in a pretty ambiguous manner.

One odd thing is that I found the books very slow in places. Sometimes I wanted to tell the author to just move things along. Nevertheless, I liked the books and stayed with them to see what Smith would do next. I recommend them with the usual cautions.